We drove about an hour from Kuşadası to the Izmer airport where we discovered that our luggage had not made it on the bus from the Charisma Hotel. Our guide frantically tried to get the luggage to the airport despite problems with his cell phone. A cab arrived before the flight but too late to be loaded as the airline was unwilling to delay the flight. Our luggage was then returned to the hotel and sent as cargo which arrived fully two days later. In Istanbul our first stop was for lunch at the Develi Restaurant where we got our first glimpse of this city of some 15 million.

After lunch we were dropped off near the Hippodrome in the heart of old Istanbul, Sultanahmet. We gathered around the obelisk of Tuthmosis III which Theodosius the Great brought from Egypt in 390.  It was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC. We also observed the remains of the nearby Serpent Column which was moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi by Constantine but later severely damaged.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque, as it is popularly known for the blue tiles adorning the interior walls, is properly known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616, it has one main dome, eight secondary domes, and six minarets. Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, who studied under the architect Sinan, incorporated some Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture to create this masterpiece of overwhelming size, majesty, and splendor.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, located about 500 feet from the Hagia Sophia, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian. Fifty-two stone steps descend into the entrance of the cistern. The ceiling of the cathedral-size cistern is supported by a forest of 336 columns, each 30 feet high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 16 feet apart. The majority of the columns in the cistern were brought to Constantinople from the ruins of older buildings from various parts of the empire. The cistern is capable of holding some 2,800,000 cubic feet of water or 100,000 tons of water. Today it has walkways above only a few feet of water lining the bottom. Of special note are the bases of two columns carved with the face of Medusa, one is sideways and the other upside down. Their placement is thought to negate their power.

The Armada Hotel, located in Cankurtaran, is nicely placed for enjoying Old Istanbul. It is only one block from the Sea of Marmara which has a wide walking path and only a few blocks up a hill to Sultanahmed Square. We enjoyed the Armada’s terrace restaurant for breakfast buffets and two dinners with views of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the sea. Seagulls with their chicks roosted on close by roof tops. The nearby Arasta Bazaar offers many café choices and a variety of shops with typical tourist trinkets and some higher end stores. On our first evening in Istanbul we looked for clothing to wear the next day because our luggage was going to be sent as cargo from the Charisma Hotel in Kuşadası. We passed a couple of booths selling tee shirts but without a visible seller before happening on some embroidered tee shirts. We successfully haggled for a cheaper price. Later in our stay on one occasion we bought food in one café and alcohol in another where we were seated. On another occasion we sat at one café and had food and drink delivered from the café across the street. Each café posts someone to encourage patronage. Several restaurants claim to have the highest terrace with the best views.

Crown Prince Window

Crown Prince Window

The Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. Construction began in 1459 and it was used until 1856. It is now a monument within the Historic Areas of Istanbul recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace complex is located on one of the highest points close to the sea. It overlooks the Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara with views of the Bosphorus from some places. Trees, gardens, and fountains provide a park-like atmosphere in the First Courtyard. The former Imperial Treasury has four adjoining rooms containing a variety of treasures. The first room houses Sultan Mustafa III’s iron coat of mail decorated with gold and encrusted with jewels, his gilded sword and shield, and gilded stirrups. The Topkapi Dagger is in the second room with a golden hilt ornamented with three large emeralds, topped by a golden watch with emerald lid. This dagger was crafted for the Shah of Persia who was assassinated before the emissary had left with it so the Sultan decided to keep it. The third room has the amazing Spoonmaker’s Diamond which is a pear-shaped 86 carat diamond surrounded by 49 cut diamonds. The fourth room features the throne of Sultan Mahmud I decorated with pearls and emeralds. Many of the most sacred relics of the Muslim world such as the cloak of Muhammad, two swords, a bow, one tooth, a hair of his beard, and an autographed letter are housed in another room. Another exhibit claims to show the forearm and the hand of St. John the Baptist set in a golden covering. Our tour included visiting the harem which requires an additional ticket. The harem, the home to the sultan’s mother, concubines, wives of the sultan, the rest of the family including children and servants, consists of a series of buildings and structures connected through hallways and courtyards. We passed through the Courtyard of the Eunuchs and their apartments. The eunuchs guarded the harem. The chief eunuch was very powerful and considered the fourth highest ranking official. We visited the apartments of the Queen Mother where paintwork with panoramic views done in the Western European style of the 18th and 19th century portray a softer, more modern essence. The Privy Chamber of Murat III is decorated with blue-and-white and coral-red Iznik tiles. A fireplace with gilded hood stands opposite a two-tiered fountain. We were told that the flow of water was meant to prevent any eavesdropping. The apartments of the Crown Prince consist of two rooms. I was especially struck by the beauty of the stained glass windows. The Courtyard of the Favorites, we learned, housed the Sultan’s favorites who could assume the title and powers of the official consort when they became pregnant. The Golden Road is a narrow passage that connects several areas within the harem. The walls are painted white and some say it got its name from the Sultan’s throwing of golden coins to concubines on festive days. Upon exiting the harem, we visited the Circumcision Room which served the young princes whose religious tradition called for this rite to maintain cleanliness and purity. The interior and exterior are decorated with blue tiles with flower motifs. The Baghdad Kiosk, situated on the right side of a terrace with fountain, was built to commemorate the Baghdad Campaign of Murad IV after 1638. The nearby Yerevan Kiosk served as a religious retreat of 40 days. We joined other visitors by posing for a picture with a view of the Golden Horn under the Iftar Kiosk. The Audience Chamber in the Third Courtyard has a roof with impressive hanging eaves. The former Imperial Treasury now houses the armory collection. The arms collection contains examples spanning 1,300 years from the 7th to the 20th century. The collection includes objects such as helmets, swords, and axes manufactured by the Ottomans, or gathered from foreign conquests, or given as presents. Next door a collection of a couple of hundred clocks made in Turkey and other European countries are on display. There are numerous other buildings within the Palace complex that are either not open to the public or we didn’t have time to explore. There are many elements of the Topkapi Palace that reminded us of China’s Forbidden City.

Iznik Tile

Iznik Tile

After lunch at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, we visited the Rustem Pasha Mosque. The entry was somewhat hidden and required climbing narrow, twisting interior flights of steps to a courtyard where we removed our shoes before entering the sacred space. This mosque is famous for its large quantities of exquisite Iznik tiles set in a variety of beautiful floral and geometric designs.

We were originally scheduled to visit Taksim Square, but demonstrations there made it unsafe for us to visit. What began as a campaign against government plans to build over Gezi Park in Taksim Square escalated after a violent police crackdown. Anyone with a grievance toward the government of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party quickly joined the protestors. This general unrest moved to Ankara and other cities throughout the country. During a later outing we saw some evidence of the protests in graffiti. Also, brick from sidewalks used as throwing missiles was now completely removed and workers were already at work to repair the damage.

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar, located in Fatih, is the second largest covered shopping complex. Because our luggage had not yet arrived, we initially circled around the Spice Bazaar to visit clothing stores used by local residents. After purchasing new shirts and other essentials, we walked along the main passageway noting items such as the spices, teas, candies, and jewelry.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is an amazing architectural wonder with an interesting history. Its massive dome is considered the archetype of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral until 1520 when the Seville Cathedral was completed. Emperor Justinian I was responsible for the construction of this third church to be built on this site. From 360 to 1453 it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral. The building was a mosque from May 29, 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It opened as a museum in 1935, and worship services whether Christian or Muslim are strictly prohibited. When the church was converted to a mosque, mosaic art work was covered with plaster. As a museum, some of the plaster has been removed once again revealing the art work underneath. Our visit started by heading to the upper gallery by means of a sloped roadway rather than traditional steps. The vast interior has a complex structure. My eyes were drawn to the central dome which rises 182 feet from the floor with a diameter of more than 100 feet and rests on a bank of 40 windows. We were introduced to the Muslim medallions with Arabic letters for Mohammed on the left above the mihrab and Allah on the right. Columns of granite are more than 62 feet high and about 5 feet in diameter. Almost half of the church had massive scaffolding in place for restoration work. We walked to the southern part of the upper gallery where some of the best-preserved mosaics such as the Empress Zoe, Commenus, and Deësis mosaics are preserved. On the main floor we noted the marble circles identifying the Byzantine coronation spot. The Hagia Sophia is a treasure!

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in the Fetih neighborhood of Istanbul is the original covered shopping mall with more than 58 streets and 3,000 shops. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. We entered through gate 1 and enjoyed a short tour. Outside the Grand Bazaar Gate 1 is the Constantine Porphyry Column which commemorates the declaration of Byzantium as the new capital city of the Roman Empire. On our way to the Edirnekapi neighborhood we passed store after store devoted to wedding dresses. This grouping of shops is typical in Istanbul as on another day we passed through an area where shops selling lighting fixtures are common. The Asitane Restaurant, our lunch stop, specializes in traditional food from the Ottoman court and is very near the Chora Church.

The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora is considered to be the most beautiful surviving example of a Byzantine church. In the 16th century it was converted into a mosque. It became a museum in 1948 leaving no Islamic element in the building except a minaret on an outside corner. The building consists of the nave, the inner narthex, outer narthes, and the paracclesion or mortuary chapel. The interior is covered with mosaics and frescoes. In the mosaics, the lives of Jesus the Christ and the Virgin Mary are depicted.

We took a two hour Bosphorus cruise that left from the Eminonu boat pier and traveled to the second Bosphorus bridge. The first Bosphorus Bridge, completed in 1973, is 3,524 feet long. The Second Bosphorus Bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet, is 3,576 feet long and was completed in 1998. Plans are underway for a third bridge. The Dolmabahçe Palace was one of the major landmarks seen on the European side of the Bosphorus. The smaller Beylerbeyi Palace was seen on the Asian side. It was also interesting to see the beautiful homes lining both sides of the water. Maiden’s Tower, which houses a restaurant, is a tower lying on a small islet located at the southern entrance of the strait. We dined at the Balikçi Sabahattin Fish Restaurant, which functioned as the farewell dinner for eight of our group of fourteen.

Lion in Relief

Lion in Relief

The Istanbul Archeological Museums, located on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace, consists of three museums that house more than one million objects from many civilizations in world history. Osman Hamdy Bey, a painter and archaeologist, was the first curator and founder of the museum. The Museum of the Ancient Orient has some amazing historical pieces. For example, it has the Hittite clay tablet version of the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty, sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh, which is considered the oldest treaty to survive and dated 1258 B.C.. A copy of the Code of Hammarabi from Babylonia dated 1750 B.C. sits in a display case along with the Sumerian en eski aşk şiirleri, considered the world’s oldest love poem and dated 2037-2029 B.C. I couldn’t resist posing next to the statue of Yazitli Heykel, a Babylonian @1894-1594 B.C. In the Archaeological Museum’s main building, the ornate Alexander Sarcophagus is covered with carvings of battles. Rather than Alexander, it was likely created for Sidonian King Abdalonymos. The Sarcophagus of the Crying Women has 18 intricately carved panels showing figures of women in states of mourning. The Statue of Bes was considered a half-god of inexhaustible power and strength and the protector against evil. The Museum of Islamic Art contains examples of Iznik tiles. I especially liked the Lions in Relief. We walked to the Ottoman Hotel Imperial for lunch.

The Great Palace Mosaics Museum, located in the Arasta Bazaar close to the Armada Hotel where we stayed, houses mosaics from the Byzantine period unearthed in 1935-1938 and 1951-1954 at the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople. There are many interesting pieces but two that caught my attention are “Riding a Donkey” and the “Trees and the Masked Head.”

Little Sophia Dome

Little Sophia Dome

The Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, commonly referred to as the Little Sophia Mosque, is located in the Kadirga neighborhood not far from our hotel. It is famous for its Iznik tiles set in a variety of blue and green floral designs.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is a tall, cone-capped cyclinder that dominates the skyline on the Galata side of the Golden Horn. The tower was built in 1348 during an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. Legend has it that an early aviator using artificial wings glided from the Tower over the Bosphorus to the Anatolian side. The Tower is nine-stories high. The observation deck is about 170 feet up and offers spectacular views of Istanbul.

The Istanbul Modern Art Museum, which opened in 2004, is located in a converted warehouse in the Tophane district on the Bosphorus. As a librarian, I was intrigued by Richard Wentworth’s “False Ceiling.” In this work using books attached to steel cable and located next to the library, he places books, representing repositories of truth, knowledge, and lies, just out of reach thereby rendering them a permeable, seductive, and symbolic surface. To get to the lower level where the library is located, one descends the “Stairway to Hell,” a steel structure that uses chains and broken safety glass that was created by Monica Bonvicni to provocatively question the world around us. “Red Vortex” was my favorite piece. Gűlay Semercioğlu uses wire and screws on wood to weave an endless, dizzying whirlpool along an elegant flower-like form. A provocative piece of performance art is the “Bordello” video created by Şűkran Moral. She stood before a brothel with a sign that said “Modern Art Museum” while holding a sign that read “for sale.” The faces on men express much about human hunger. This visit to modernism stands in contrast to the antiquities of the previous couple of weeks.

We had lunch at Dűrűmce where I tried an adana wrap, a spicy lamb kabob sandwich. I tried ayran, a yogurt drink, but found it too sour for my liking. We then explored the Ortakőy neighborhood, a popular spot for locals and tourists. Ortakőy is a cosmopolitan area, with communities of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. On our drive to the ferry we spotted sections of sidewalk that had been removed and we were told used as projectiles in the Taksim demonstrations. Work was underway to replace the brick sidewalks. A heavy police presence was noted.

We took a ferry from Eninőnű, which is on the European side of Istanbul, to Kadikőy, which is on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Kadikőy is the cultural center of the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Young people were selling pro Ataturk banners for use in the Taksim demonstrations. The oddest encounter was to find a crowd of Turks listening to two young men dressed in Native American costume but playing Peruvian music!?

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

On our final full day in Istanbul we took the tram to its last stop near the Dolmabahçe Palace. The Dolmabahçe Palace was built between 1843 and 1856 at a cost of some 35 tons of gold. The design is western in style with elements of Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-Classical traditions blended with Ottoman traditional art and culture. The world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, found in the center hall, has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tons. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed in the palace which is divided into three parts: quarters reserved for men, ceremonial halls, and the harem apartments of the family and Sultan.

A few final notes: throughout our trip the Muslim call to prayer could be heard five times a day. This summoning of Muslims to pray was soothing to my spirit, although there were times when mosques were close to one another and the call came at slightly different times creating a dissonant sound. Evil eye beads or pendants were ubiquitous. Using this lucky charm to deflect negative energy is an interesting aspect of Turkish culture that does not seem only directed at tourists. Cats were present everywhere and the culture combines tolerance with ideas about animal rights. It is my understanding that it is state policy to catch, neuter, and release stray cats and dogs. Stray dogs seem to be considered more of a nuisance while cats are esteemed. Throughout my entries on Turkey I have made references to the cuisine. I was overwhelmed by the quantity of our meals, and delighted in the emphasis on vegetables and fruits. Overall, our experience in Turkey was fantastic and I highly recommend others experience the history and culture of this country.

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